John Brown

There would be more bloodshed before the inevitable conflict finally descended on the United States. John Brown (pictured below), the Immediatist abolitionist who had been involved in the violence in Kansas, led his final assault. He was certain that a revolt of major proportions was the only way to end slavery and so, on 16 October 1859, Brown and twenty-one men attempted to raid the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Among the men were three free African-Americans, plus three freed slaves and one fugitive slave. The raid was an attempt to obtain weapons in order to arm the abolitionists and African-Americans in an uprising that would end slavery.

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John Brown, daguerreotype by Martin M. Lawrence

But the raid failed. At some point, a shot was fired that alerted a neighbour who rode out to raise an alarm. A unit of eighty-six marines, led by Lieutenant Israel Greene, was called in to deal with the uprising. But Greene needed a higher-ranking officer and found one who happened to be on leave in the area. Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee took along a soldier named J. E. B. Stuart as his aide-de-camp. Both men would later distinguish themselves during the American Civil War, Lee as a commanding general and Stuart as a cavalryman and officer.

On 18 October, after attempts to negotiate with Brown had failed, the marines stormed the building where Brown and his followers were trapped. Some were killed, including two of Brown’s sons, while their companions were captured. Brown was tried for treason against the state of Virginia and convicted. He was hanged on 2 December 1859.

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